Category Archives: Public Sector to Private Sector Transitions

Comparing Public and Private Sector Organizational Values

Public-sector-vs_-private-sectorWhen people want to transition from careers in the public sector to opportunities in the private sector, they have to embrace new ways of how they approach these positions. It’s not just getting used to new organizational structure, goals/objectives, and required skills, but such transitions require rethinking which values are important and which ones are less so.

Let’s review the results of research that compared most/least important values in the public sector with those in the private sector (according to public sector executives).

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The rankings were influenced slightly by gender and age of respondents, years of employment, previous working experience in the other sector, and organization culture. Other studies have shown that younger public sector employees plane more importance on career work values than older employees, though work values are also influenced by personal preferences. Low ranking values does not imply such values are not important, but only that they were seldom mentioned as organizational values in decision making.

Further analysis revealed that “profitability, innovativeness, and honesty” are clear private sector values while “lawfulness, impartiality, and incorruptibility” are clear public sector values. Common core values were revealed to be “accountability, expertise, reliability, efficiency, and effectiveness.”

The ranking of such values may differ when subjects from other job functions are tested; the same could be said for the generalizations of the study results for other countries because values and ethics are tightly correlated with cultural traditions and preferences.

Nevertheless, the comparisons and contrasts provide a basic values map for individuals seeking to transition careers from one sector to the other.

(from Public Administration Vol. 86, No. 2 2008 (465 – 482).

Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of the newly released Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers).

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Making the Career Jump from the Public Sector to the Private Sector

When I left the employ of the Federal government in 1980 after three years with the U.S. Department of Commerce-NOAA, I had no problem getting interviews and many job offers from major oil companies who were desperate for experienced geologists.

It’s a different environment today for public sector employees who want to transition to the private sector. In many areas, how government works is different from how businesses work, and the cultural shift necessary for that transition to be successful can be a stumbling block for some. This paradigm change requires the necessary time and commitment to grasp how business processes are integrated both vertically and horizontally and how they all work together to generate revenue and profit (˝meeting the numbers˝).

The good news is that since 9/11, many Federal government agencies have embraced the idea of horizontal integration, getting further away from rigid ˝silo˝ mentalities and segmented (in serial fashion rather than in parallel) responses to changing conditions. Dynamic exchanges and collaborative processes between agencies fosters cooperation that mitigates risk and threats, and can take advantage of opportunity more quickly. Such a shift in how government operates closes the gap that has made the public-sector-to-private-sector transition more problematic in the past.

OK, let’s hone in on some practical advice for making the jump to the private sector. First on the agenda: your résumé. To be clear, unless you’re applying for a fellowship or large grant, or an academic, research, or scientific position at the Ph.D. level–all of which demand a curriculum vitae (CV)–you use a résumé.  A résumé is a one- or two-page summary of your skills, experience, accomplishments, and education, and is short on duties and responsibilities. While a résumé is brief and concise–no more than a page or two, a curriculum vitae is a longer (at least two pages and usually many more) with additional detailed information. Too many online job banks and job web sites confuse the two documents and their purposes, so beware.

I’ve seen some of the forms the government forces upon workers to document every event of their professional work lives, and to be honest, that level of detail just won’t get the attention of a hiring manager. You have to boil it down to the major accomplishments, skills, and experience and leave the details for another time (such as the interview and the post-interview ˝Continuous Promotion Approach˝ I detail in Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0). You have to understand and be comfortable with the idea that the hiring process is a staged release of information that provides more detail as you move forward in the process; it’s not a document dump at your first opportunity.

Next in your approach is to determine which skills, knowledge, and expertise can transfer from the public sector to the private sector. All of that can be dropped into five different buckets:

  • Technical abilities/problem solving
  • Leadership/Relationship building
  • Communication clarity
  • Ability to influence people and projects
  • Business knowledge

Depending on your present position, duties, and responsibilities, some of these transferable skills categories may already be in good shape. For individuals exiting the military and seeking jobs in the private sector, communication clarity is typically one that needs much work. With the possible exception of the high-technology field, most business and interpersonal communication in a business environment does not revolve around obscure acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms, or phraseology (˝that’s a five by five˝). The language style in your cover letter and on your résumé must reflect that of the private sector hiring manager. Why risk losing his or her interest and attention with arcane terminology?

Another big problem for people transitioning from the public sector to the private sector (especially the military) is with relating job functions and accomplishments. Too many of those résumés list duties and responsibilities. What a hiring manager is interested in are accomplishments. You can see the bigger picture of a duty or responsibility by asking: ˝…and this duty resulted in…what? ˝ Your résumé must rise above the daily task list and enter the realm of accomplishments. For example, ˝Maintained several Abrams M1A1 tanks˝ then becomes ˝Maintained three of state-of-the-art Abrams M1A1 armored vehicles valued at $13M with XXX hours MTBF (mean time between failure) for a 92% uptime efficiency rating. ˝ Now THAT’s an accomplishment.

Another way to speak the language of the private sector hiring manager is to see how a particular skill set involves several individual skills. Several skills sets contribute to what is called a ˝core competency˝ (which is a combination of skill, knowledge, and expertise) which fulfills three important criteria:

  1. It is difficult for a competitor to imitate (unique skills, knowledge, experience)
  2. It can be repurposed for other products or markets (multiple application)
  3. It contributes to end user’s experienced benefits (it adds value to product/service)

Several core competencies contribute to what is called a ˝functional expertise˝ which is simply a higher level of integrated skills, knowledge, and expertise that work together. A functional expertise also reflects a career-long exposure to a particular job or functional area. Employees with high levels of functional expertise can create a competitive advantage or market dominance for an individual or company in the private sector. See the figure below for an illustration of this concept.

How skill sets make up a core competency; how core competencies make up a functional expertise, and how they all contribute to competitive advantage

To sum up:

  1. Lose the jargon and unfamiliar terminology in your cover letter and résumé.
  2. Categorize your transferable skills using the 5 buckets (quantify accomplishments whenever possible to speak to the hiring manager’s needs).
  3. Think transferable Skill Set –>Core Competency –>Functional Expertise.
  4. Think résumé, not CV; the hiring process involves a staged release of information; extend it past the interview stage by using the ˝Continuous Promotion Approach.˝